Staying Real

With Pistons at 0-8, Frank works to fix ills without undermining confidence

Lawrence Frank walks a balancing act with the 0-8 Pistons, making sure players know why they’re losing games but taking care not to undermine their confidence.
Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty)
PHILADELPHIA – During Saturday’s Alabama-Texas A&M game, as the Aggies built a stunning early lead, CBS analyst Gary Danielson told a national audience that when the Crimson Tide were rolling, that’s when celebrated coach Nick Saban was likelier to get after them. When things were playing out against them, that’s when he turned to cheerleader.

Football isn’t basketball and college kids aren’t paid professionals, but the message resonates with Lawrence Frank as the Pistons are mired in a 0-8 start heading into tonight’s game at Philadelphia.

“It’s always easier to be harder when you’re winning,” Frank said after the morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center. “The reality is you learn from losing, you really do. When you win, guys naturally feel good about themselves but there’s also a complacency element. That’s when, as a coach, you’re on them harder.”

But it’s a balancing act, too.

“When you lose, they have to know why you’re losing. At the same time, confidence is an important part of this game. So there’s a delicate balance between being real and also making sure that guys are confident enough to get the job done. Where you get confidence is through demonstrated behavior. Once you’re doing it and you’re doing it right, you get confident about it. You can’t tell a guy who can’t shoot at all, ‘You’re a great shooter, man, keep on shooting.’ He’s still going to miss as many shots because he can’t shoot, so you’ve got to be real.”

Staying consistent in approach, regardless of outcome, is Frank’s hallmark. But there comes a time when action is demanded, too. For a coach who preaches habits and staying “true to the process,” is it advisable to make a move when times are tough and risk sending a message to players that the blueprint is being abandoned? There is a difference, after all, between staying true to your convictions and turning a blind eye to apparent problems.

It was 13 games into last season, when the Pistons were 3-10, when Frank made his first lineup tweak: Ben Wallace in at power forward for Jonas Jerebko. With a series of physical, rebound-eating power forwards coming up, including Luis Scola and Kevin Love, Frank wanted the more physical Wallace next to Greg Monroe – even though the Pistons had won their previous game at Charlotte.

Ten games later, with the Pistons at 4-19, he turned to Jason Maxiell, this time the move coming not after a win but following three consecutive road losses with an average margin of defeat of 23 points.

That move clicked. The Pistons lost that night at New Jersey to hit their low-water mark, but played .500 basketball over the season’s final 42 games.

But Frank has said it was less about personnel moves, other than the chemistry those moves might have triggered, and more about mind-set.

“When you look at where it turned for us after those first 24 games, we made the third-biggest jump in the NBA in most defensive ratings that are significant to wining,” he said. “Same thing will happen here. Once we make that full commitment to doing it, we’ll get our jump.”

The Pistons will make one lineup change for the Philly game, but it was a move forced on Frank. Rodney Stuckey is out with flulike symptoms; Kyle Singler will start in his place.

“It’s just a different way to approach the game,” said Singler, who had become first off the bench for Frank for either Stuckey or Tayshaun Prince. “It’s something I’m used to, starting. It’s just a great opportunity for me to come in and start from where Rodney’s role is on the team and just help as much as I can.”

Whether Singler’s insertion into the starting lineup can be a catalyst for change or other moves are required, Frank won’t be timid in his attempt to correct flaws.

“As long as you’re direct and honest about whatever you do,” Frank said. “I don’t think you can live in fear of anything. You can’t live in fear of making mistakes, you can’t live in fear of how it’s going to be taken.”